HOW IT ALL STARTED
The Royal Swedish Opera is Sweden’s national theatre for opera and ballet. It has served in that role since January 18, 1773, when the first performance was given at the Royal Opera. A couple of years prior to that, in 1771, King Gustav III had fired the French opera troupe that had been performing at Bollhuset by Slottsbacken in Stockholm for 20 years or so. This was due to his wish to form a Swedish ensemble that could put on Swedish operas.
The Swedish troupe continued performing in Bollhuset until a new Opera House was completed in 1782 and the ensemble was able to move in.
Gustav III:s opera HOUSE
On September 30, 1782, the new Kungliga Teaterhuset (Royal Theatre House) was inaugurated, designed by architect Carl Fredrik Adelcrantz. For the inauguration, a performance of Kraus’ opera Aeneas in Carthage was scheduled. However, the female soloist cast in the role of Dido had just fled the country with her husband to escape her creditors! So the troupe put on Naumann’s Cora and Alonzo instead, the libretto of which was written by G.J. Adlerbeth. Both the opera and the new Opera House received standing ovations.
During the 1800s, the Opera House was considered to be one of Stockholm’s most beautiful buildings. The Gustavian opera seated 948 spectators and the auditorium was decorated in blue, white and gold. Unlike in today’s Opera House, the king’s box was located right in the middle of the Stalls Circle for the best possible view of the stage. Gustav III had a burning passion for opera, dance and theatre, and paid for the Opera’s operations from his own pocket.
Even dance assumed its rightful place in the Royal Swedish Opera. The first ballet performed was Louis Gallodier’s Opportunity Makes the Thief, a work that the Royal Swedish Ballet performed again in 2009 after an interval of nearly 200 years.
Gustav III MURDERED IN HIS OWN THEATRE
Barely 10 years after the inauguration, on 16 March 1792, the king was shot at a masked ball held at the opera, dying of his injuries on March 29. Verdi’s opera Un ballo in maschera is based on this terrible event. The Gustavian Opera House stood for another hundred years after the death of the king, but the building was so badly dilapidated, so outdated, and presented such a fire hazard, that a decision was made to demolish it in 1892. In its place, the city fathers built a new Opera House called The Oscarian. It was named after the then reigning monarch Oscar II. Axel Anderberg, a fan of neoclassical style, was commissioned to design the new Opera House. It took almost 7 years to complete the new opera. During those years, the Royal Theatre’s ensemble was housed in the Swedish National Theatre on Blasieholmen island, which many years later was reduced to a charred ruin by a devastating fire.
THE NEW OPERA HOUSE
The exterior of the new building was built in a neo-Renaissance style, while the staircase, foyer and auditorium were designed in the neo-Baroque style. Marble from Norway was used to adorn the entrance hall, to symbolise the union with our neighbouring country. The magnificent Guldfoajé (Golden Foyer), with ceiling paintings by Carl Larsson, is reminiscent of the Palais Garnier in Paris.
The new Opera House was inaugurated by Oscar II on September 19, 1898. Works by Swedish composers were performed on the night of the inauguration. First, Adolf Fredrik Lindblad’s The Rebels, then scenes from Franz Berwald’s Estrella di Soria and finally a newly composed inaugural cantata by Ivar Hallström as a tribute both to the glories of the past and the old building itself. The 1898/1899 season continued on the Swedish theme, with Wilhelm Stenhammar’s Tirfing and Andreas Hallén’s Valdemarsskatten (The Valdemar Treasure) as the two premieres of the season.
In 1989, after nearly 100 years of serving as an opera building, the Opera underwent a major renovation. At that time, all public areas in the building were washed, painted, re-gilded and repaired, from the main entrance to the opera auditorium.
Guldfoajén - THE GOLDEN FOYER
Before the renovation, it was nearly impossible to make out the subjects of the artworks in the grand stairwell or the "Guldfoajén" due to all the smoke and soot from the city that had accumulated in the 91 years since the building was inaugurated. But today, it’s once again possible to experience the Opera House in all its original glory. The "Guldfoajén", located on the same level as the Stalls Circle, has been restored to the same exact condition it was in at the inaugural ceremony, with gold stucco work on the walls and ceiling, crystal chandeliers, sweeping mirrors, and curtains and upholstery of Florentine gold brocade.
Over the 20 or so years prior to the renovation of the public areas, all the behind-the-scene areas were refurbished to update the old nineteenth century building into an efficient modern theatre.
There are around 1,100 seats in the Royal Swedish Opera’s auditorium, which has a chandelier weighing two tonnes hanging from the ceiling. The ceiling also features a large plafond painting by artist Vicke Andrén. If you look closely, you can see that one of the little angels is carrying a sheet of paper with an architectural drawing of precisely the Opera House over whose audience the angel is floating.
The Royal Swedish Opera has changed its official Swedish name twelve times. From initially being named Kongl Operan (the Royal Opera), it was eventually renamed, after numerous small variations on the same theme, the Kungliga Teatern (the Royal Theatre) at the start of the 1900s, a name it retained for more than three quarters of a century. Since 1997, its official name has been Kungliga Operan (the Royal Swedish Opera). Stockholmers have always referred to the theatre simply as the Opera.
ON tour in sewden and abroad
The Royal Swedish Opera took its operatic productions on tour through Sweden in the 1920s and for a few decades thereafter. Since 1959, these tours have ventured beyond Sweden’s borders as well, including productions in Edinburgh, London, Montréal, Munich, Kiel, Wiesbaden, Seville, Dresden, Berlin, Savonlinna and Oslo.